Friday, November 24, 2006

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 18 - I'll give YOU a good stuffing turkey, and the whole meal to go with it

Today (actually, by the time I finish writing this, yesterday) is (was) thanksgiving, which to most of us mean turkey.

Hmmmmm turkey... and stuffing, and mashed potatos, and cranberry sauce and cobbler...

Oh yeah, that's some good stuff.

Now, we don't just eat turkey on thanksgiving; I'd guess we do them up once every couple of months, when it comes by on a major sale. A few weeks back a local market had them on sale for 44 cents a pound, so we picked up a couple. We ended up roasting one, and smoking the other while camping (and it was great).

I suppose we have a half dozen of them a year; and I could easily eat turkey twice a month. Also I love to make turkey, and turkey potato soup (I'll do that recipe shortly). I think turkey makes a much better poultry stock than chicken.

Now doing the turkey is pretty simple as far as I'm concerned; but somehow, some folks just can't seem to get it right. Theres not much worse than dry, or greasy turkey, and lumpy gravy.

Then of course there's the rest of the meal; and I don't care how good the turkey is, it's the SIDES that make a good turkey dinner.

The problem is, most people are still dong those cheezy sides from the canned candied yams label their grandmothers were making in the fifties.

No more, men; I shall show you the way.

First things first, what makes a good turkey dinner? What are the essential dishes you need to have?

Well let's list the basics:

1. Turkey - obviously
2. Gravy - You just can't have turkey without gravy... or at least I can't
3. Stuffing - I hate most peoples stuffing, so I always make my own
4. Mashed potatos - The best side dish ever; good for almost anything, but best with turkey
5. Sweet Potatos - I don't care for them, but most folks can't consider it thanksgiving without'em
6. Fresh bread - gotta have fresh hot rolls, cornbread, or both
7. Cranberry sauce - I'm from Boston, and 80% of the cranberries in the world are grown in MA
8. Dessert - Some say it's apple pie, but for my money, I'd rather have an apple cobbler

There are other dishes that some consider essential; but most of them are in that heinous category of onion, mushroom, and green bean casserole dishes made up by campbells soup company to sell more cans.

No... just no.

Now, I said we were gonna do the whole meal here; and we are; but the bread, cranberry sauce, and dessert are going to have to wait for our next recipes for REAL Women post, coming shortly; because they are Mels department.

The Bird

18 -22lb turkey (smaller turkeys are acceptable, but the quantities change)
1lb butter
Herbal medley
(4 tblsp fresh sage, finely chopped
2 tblsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tblsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 tblsp fresh basil, finely chopped
2 tblsp fresh marjoram, finely chopped)

4 tblsp fresh coarse ground black pepper
Salt to taste
The Brine:
1lb salt
1lb brown sugar
2 cups malt vinegar
1 full bulb garlic, crushed
4 tblsp dried rosemary
4tblsp dried oregano
2 gallons water
10 lbs of ice
The Injection/Basting liquid:
1 cup white wine
2 cups turkey stock
4 oz butter
6 tblsp herbal medley as above
1 tblsp fresh coarse ground black pepper
Salt to taste (depends on the bread type, and your stock)
First step, the brine. Brining the bird makes sure that it stays moist, and it intensifies the flavors. Really you can make a brine out of just salt, and water; but adding another acid, some herbs and spices, and some sugar to balance out the sourness (the purpose of the salt is to concentrate flavors, not for the sour flavor).

For this brine, we take a gallon of water in a six quart pot, and heat it up to just below simmering, then dissolve the salt, sugar, and all the herbs and spices. Take the brine off the heat and let it steep for a few minutes; then dump in enough ice to fill the pot, and let it cool down below the danger zone (bacteria love 75 to 120 degrees); stirring frequently to ensure nothing precipitates out or clumps up.

Prep your brining vessel by washing thoroughly, and making sure the turkey will fit, with enough room left over for the brine. I used a 32 quart cooler; but a large stock pot, or a five gallon bucket will do the trick.

Clean the bird, remove the neck, gizzard etc... pull them out of their bags, and put them back in the main body cavity of the bird.

Dump some ice in the bottom of the brining vessel, then rest the bird in the vessel. Pour the brine over the turkey; then add enough ice to fill the vessel. Store in a cool dry place overnight; you want the bird to brine for at least 8 hours, and 12-24 are better.

The reason for the ice is to lower the brine temperature, not just to avoid cooking the bird, but to keep the brine out of the bacterial danger zone. This is one of the reasons the cooler is a good choice.

Once the bird has brined, pull it out, and dry the bird off with paper towels. Rest the bird for a few minutes until it comes up close to room temperature.

Prepare your herbs, and takeabout half of them, and half the pepper, soften half the butter, then mix the herbs and butter together into a soft paste.

Turn your oven on to bake at 500 or 550, to preheat while you prep the bird.

Position the bird in the roasting pan, with the neck and innards resting on the bottom of the pan.
Slide your hand up under the skin of the sides and breast of the turkey, being careful not to tear it. It's easy to gently separate the skin from the meat. Once the skin has been loosened, take handfulls of the butter and herb paste and thoroughly rub the meat in with the paste under the skin. Leave a fair bit of butter under the skin. Then rub the entire top and side surface, including in the creases, with the butter herb mixture. The skin should be COMPLETELY coated with butter and herbs, like a thick layer of frosting. Then sprinkle the remaining herbs and pepper over the top of the skin. Sprinkle salt on to taste.

When the birds skin is prepped, it should look dry on the outside; and you should barely be able to see any bare skin.

Next, prep your basting liquid by heating the liquid above 140, but below simmering, and dissolving/mixing all the ingredients together. Let them steep for five minutes.

Now you have a decision to make, stuffed or unstuffed.

If the bird isn't going to be stuffed, you want to pour about half the basting liquid into the body cavity, and half the remianing butter. If the bird IS going to be stuffed, then rub the inside of the bird with butter, and pour maybe a cup of the basting liquid into the cavity, then stuff. Either way, break up the rest of the remaining butter into the pan, pouring the rest of the basting liquid in around the bird.

Cover the stuffing or body cavity with a double layer of aluminum foil, and put the turkey into the 500-550 degree oven for 30-45 minutes; until the skin is just on the verge of being blackened.

At this point, you want to do your first basting, or injection, or both. If you inject, shoot the large muscles (breast, thighs), with about a cup worth of the basting liquid. Otherwise just baste as normal.

Turn the oven down to 350, and insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the breast; and set an alarm for 161 degrees if you can.

Don't touch the bird for about an hour, then baste/inject again, about every half hour.

You're going to roast the bird for about 35-45 minutes for every five pounds if the bird is un-stuffed; or about an hour for every five pounds if the bird is stuffed. The problem is, every bird is different, every oven is different, and every stuffing is different. The important thing is to get the internal heat up to 161 degrees; and get the stuffing over 140 degrees if it's stuffed.

Once the breast meat hits 161, you're going to want to turn the heat off, and cover the whole bird with foil; letting the meat coast up a bit, and rest for about 15 minutes.

After the meat is rested, check the temperature of the stuffing, with a probe all the way through the thickest part. If it hasn't hit 140 degrees, you're going to need to take it out of the bird and bake it until it does. YOU MUST GET THE STUFFING OVER 140 FOR AT LEAST 10 MINUTES, or there's a good chance of you getting salmonela.

If a pregnant woman is going to be eating, don't stuff the bird, it's not worth the risk (like eating unpasteurized cheese etc...). Also, a stuffed bird doesnt make as much gravy; but with a bird this big, with this much butter, gravy volume isn't exactly a problem.

Personally, I like to strip the breasts, wings, and thighs including all the connecting meat off the bird , and throw the rest into the pot. I strip all the usable meat off, but not too hard; saving it for soup, but still leaving a fair bit of meat on the bones for the stock. I also strip all the skin and loose fat off and throw it in the stock pot, along with the neck, and if no-one likes to eat them, the heart, liver etc.

Take your meat, soak it in the drippings, and place it on a platter for serving.

Next step, pour off the drippings, to make...
The Gravy

Drippings (a 22 pound bird, prepared as above should produce between 4 and 6 cups)
1-2 cups cornstarch slurry (equal volumes of water, and fine cornstarch, mixed)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk (appx)
2 tblsp fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
Salt to taste (probably none)
Making a basic white gravy is pretty damned easy. In this gravy, you don't even need a roux; though instead of a cornstarch slurry, you could easily make a half cup, to a cup of blonde roux (depending on how thick you want it).

Pour the drippings into a pan large enough to hold all the liquid produced (at least a 2 quart pot), and add the cream. Mix the cream in thoroughly (I prefer using a hand mixer), and heat to just below simmering. You DON'T want to leave it unattended at this stage, it's probably going to boil over if it ever gets to simmering.

Add in half the cornstarch slurry, stirring in thoroughly, and heat for about five minutes while mixing thoroughly. Now, it's adjustment time.

If the mixture is too fatty, but still thin; add half the milk, leave it on the heat while you incorporate, and adjust again until the fat balance is right; then thicken with about half the remaining slurry.

If the mixture is smooth, but not fatty, just adjust the thickness with the slurry. Be careful when you're adjusting because cornstarch won't reach it's full thickening for at least five minutes on the heat, so you need to add the slurry, then thicken for five minutes, then adjust again.

Add the ground pepper in, and adjust the saltiness; if too salty, add more milk and cornstarch, if not salty enough, of course, add more salt.

This basic gravy goes great with...
Basic Stuffing

2 lbs (or large dense loaves) stale bread
2 cups turkey stock
8 oz butter
1/2 cup onions, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup shredded carrot (optional)
4-8 tblsp herbal medley as above (to taste)
2 tblsp fresh coarse ground black pepper (to taste)
1 tblsp celery salt
1 tblsp garlic powder
1 tblsp onion powder
Salt to taste (depends on the bread type, and your stock)
Ok, so a basic stuffing is an easy thing. All you need is two pounds of stale bread, of almost any kind; but I think cornbread, rye, and sourdough do the best job. You need a dense bread, and crusty breads with a strong base flavor are preferred.

Take your stale bread, and cube it up into appx 1/2" cubes. Melt your butter and stir your herbs into it. If you are adding veggies, sweat them in with the butter at this stage.

Pour about half the butter herb mix evenly over the bread, and mix thoroughly; then spread the bread into a pan and toast it into the oven until just before the bread starts to burn. Basically to the level of dark toast; then let the bread cool.

When the bread cools, combine the rest of the butter herb mixture, and the turkey stock. Put the stuffing back into the bowl, pour the mixture over the bred and stir to combine. The bread should hold together, but still be lightly moist.

From this point you have two options. You can add another couple ounces of butter, and another 1/2 cup to cup of turkey stock, and then bake it outside the bird. You can use it as actual stuffing. You can take it and blend it into gravy, salads, anywhere you can imagine using stuffing.

Now, no matter what you choose, you're going to have too much stuffing for one bird. There's two ways to deal with that. One, you can just bake the rest in a pan, or you can do what I prefer. Leave the rest dry, heat it up in a pan, but don't fully bake it; then when the in-bird stuffing is done, fold the two together. You end up with a firmer texture, and a nice strong herbal flavor.
Fancy Stuffing

2 lbs corn bread
1 lb smoked thick cut black pepper bacon
1 lb chicken apple sausage
1/2 cup turkey stock
1/2 cup cream
8 oz butter
1/2 cup softened cranberries from cranberry sauce
4-8 tblsp Herbal medley as above
2 tblsp fresh coarse ground black pepper
Salt to taste (depends on the bread type, and your stock)
Ok, so a few months back, we did a 15lb roast turky stuffed with chicken apple sausage, smoked bacon, and cranberry stuffing; and DAMN it was good.

The stuffing was loaded with the same herb mixture as above; but the prep was a little different.

First, cube up the bacon, and saute 'til just lightly crisp. Then chop up the sausages into 1/2" or so chunks, and saute them in the bacon grease.

Next step, make a bacon grease corn bread with the pan drippings (we'll do that recipe later). You can also use a commercial corn bread, but taste it first, because you don't want a corn cake, or sweet corn bread, you want a standard savory cornbread.

Next step, melt your butter, cube, and toast the cornbread as above in the simple stuffing.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining grease, the remaining butter, the cubed bread, sausage, and bacon. Then mix the cream and turkey stock together, and fold it into the bread mixture; using enough to give a slightly damp but still firm texture.

Now stuffing is great, but no turkey dinner is "official" without...
The Potatos

10 lbs russett potatos
1-2 lb butter
1-2 cups cream
1 cup gravy
2 cups malt vinegar
2 tblsp fresh ground black pepper
4 tblsp herbal medley as above (optional)
salt, to taste

Peel and cube the potatos, into 1/2" cubes. Salt the water to almost the point of a brine, and add jsut enough to cover the potatos. Boil until very soft, drain, and then toss with the vinegar.

Cut up the butter into small cunks, and hand stir in half the butter, pepper, and if you want to, the herbs. Add half the gravy and half the cream in, and blend. Because potatos are different, it will take a varying amount of liquid and butter to reach the proper texture, so you want to slowly add and blend until the texture is correct. Finally, adjust the salt, pepper, and herbs to taste.
And finally for t'day, we have

The Sweet Potatos

3-5 lbs white or yellow sweet potatos
1 cup cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 oz butter
2 tblsp pure vanilla extract
1 tblsp fresh ground cinnamon (not cashia)
1 tblsp fresh ground nutmeg
Peel and cube the potatos, into 1/2" cubes. Lightly salt the water, and add enough to cover the potatos with hot water. Boil until very soft, then drain.

Melt the butter, and mix into the potatos. Add the brown sugar and spices to the potatos, and then blend; adding cream until the desired texture is reached.
Really, it's not hard. It took me longer to write all this stuff out, than it did to actually do the work of cooking it.

Tomorrow we'll finish the dinner, with the bread, cranberry sauce, and dessert.

And be sure to check out:

Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 18 - I'll give YOU a good stuffing turkey (1)
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 17 - REAL Coffee
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 16 - DTG (Damn That's Good) dip
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 15 - More Chocolate Than Cookie
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 14 - Millions of Peaches
Recipes for REAL Women, Volume 13 - Mels 10,000 Calorie Butter Cookies
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 12 - Lard Ass Wings
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 11 - Bacon Double Macaroni and Cheese
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 10 - It's the meat stupid
Recipes for REAL Men, Volume 9 - Labor Day Potatos
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 8 - It's a pork fat thing
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 7 - It may not be Kosher...
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 6 - Andouille Guiness Chili
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 5 - Eazza the Ultimate Pizza
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 4 - Two Pound Meat Sauce
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 3 - Highbrow Hash
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 2 - MuscleCarbonara
Recipes for REAL men, Volume 1 - More Beef than Stew